In The River Maiden, much we are first introduced to Sarah's chosen profession when she and her partner Amy are invited to give an example of mouth music or puirt a beul to a Gaelic singing workshop. I have gotten a number of questions about this style of music, so I thought I would do a post on the topic.
Here is how Dermot describes this kind of music.
To which Sarah adds.
She's absolutely right. They are loads of fun to sing. If you enjoy singing, I highly recommend giving it a try. Although, you might want to start with some other Gaelic songs first. The speed of these songs would be challenging in English, in Gaelic they take a lot of practice.
Of course, you don't have to take my fictional grad student's word for it. Wikipedia has a pretty accurate article on the matter.
I won't subject you to my own puirt a beul efforts here. Although if you happen to meet me and feed me enough whisky I might be convinced to provide a live example. For now, you can click play on one of my favorite songs below to hear this kind of music in action. This one is from Mary Jane Lamond, a Gaelic singer/musician from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
Here is a snippet of the lyrics in Gaelic.
And here's the translation. You can find the whole song and translation here.
This is a perfect example of what the Wikipedia article was talking about. The lyrics seem inconsequential (unless you write fiction in which case they're a smashing writing prompt, but that's for another time). The key is the rhythm, and that comes with the repetitive and percussive 'ch' and 't' sounds at the end of each line. Juxtaposed with the rise and fall of the 'i' and softening 'a' sounds it makes a nice dance-able tune.
I'll leave you with another fine example of three songs from Uist sung by the very talented Julie Fowlis.